On Thursday, the Florida Gators and the Nevada Wolf Pack will get together for a traditional No. 7 vs. No. 10 matchup in the first round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
Although the Gators finished their SEC season with a 9-9 record, the club made it all the way to the semifinals of their conference tournament before losing to eventual champion Auburn.
Nevada, on the other hand, has been ranked in the Top 25 of both polls for the entire season (the majority of that time in the top 10) and has already collected 29 wins. The Wolf Pack were upset in the semifinals of the Mountain West Conference Tournament by San Diego State and hope to avoid a similar fate on Thursday.
West Region: No. 10 Florida Gators (19-15) vs. No. 7 Nevada Wolf Pack (29-4)
Time: 6:50 p.m. ET (Thursday)
Where: Wells Fargo Arena (Des Moines, Iowa)
Keys for Florida
The Gators got into the NCAA Tournament not because of their offense, which has been subpar throughout the year, but because of their defense. Per KenPom.com metrics, the Gators are ranked 14th nationally in defensive efficiency, as they yield 91.9 points per 100 possessions (adjusted for opponent). Only the Kentucky Wildcats (90.9) have a better rating.
With a team as talented as Nevada, Florida will try to slow the game down because of its offensive deficiencies. The Gators also don't have a ton of star power as senior guard KeVaughn Allen, at 12.0 points per game, is the only player in double figures. scoring.
Keys for Nevada
Getting back senior big man Jordan Caroline will help the Wolf Pack offense. Caroline missed the MW Tournament loss to San Diego State because of an Achilles injury. However, Nevada head coach Eric Musselman said Caroline will be good to go against the Gators.
Caroline averages 17.3 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. He and senior guard Caleb Martin (19.2 ppg) will be difficult for the Gators to stop. Especially if Martin, who has hit 105 3-pointers this year, gets going behind the arc.
If Florida had a bit more offense, the Gators would probably be the favorites in this game. But with their lack of depth and offensive efficiency, Nevada should have the advantage, especially since the Wolf Pack prefer to speed up the tempo.
Although the contrast in styles makes for an intriguing matchup, Nevada is focused and returns many players who were part of last year's Sweet 16 team that lost to Loyola-Chicago by one point.
Prediction: Nevada 75, Florida 65
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.